The Challenge Posed by the Intelligentsia

Esteban Morales Dominguez*

Painting by the late Cuban artist Belkis Ayon.

HAVANA TIMES — In April 2010, I wrote that corruption was the most difficult and dangerous challenge we had to face. It remains a problem of national security.

Today, I want to sound the alert regarding the importance of the position adopted by intellectuals in the circumstances our country is now facing.

I explained in a recent article that science is a form of power, therefore we cannot ignore its dynamics – much less treat it with anti-democratic mechanisms.

Cuba is the only country in this hemisphere that has no illiterate citizens, whose average level of schooling is the highest in the region, including the United States and Canada.

And if this weren’t enough, more than 10 percent of our population has a university degree. Cuba possess “human capital” whose involvement in the field of scientific activity is enviable everywhere else.

In other words, the country has extraordinary potential, if it is capable of utilizing it to promote the tasks it must perform to change the economic model and — what would be even more complex — if we could match that change with the required change in our social dynamics and a shift in our collective mindset.

Within those dynamics, the social and humanistic sciences are called upon to play a fundamental role (along with cultural work) because they are closest to politics.

However, great harm is being done to the role of scientific and cultural work within the social dynamics of this country. Among the damaging factors are:

Our press, with its sectarian and exclusive attitude of mistrust, generally excluding intellectualism from its pages and deflecting such work toward the alternative media (such as the local Intranet and the Internet, to which less than 10 percent of our population have access). Speaking in terms of the dynamics of daily news is the more complex because it determines the political junctures that the country must choose daily.

The still very weak relationship between politics and science. We can clearly see tremendous intolerance to everything that is written in the spirit of criticism or anything that deviates from the established standards.

The extreme difficulty in accessing information about sensitive topics, therefore placing our revolutionary intellectualism at a disadvantage within the debates that take place in the foreign media, in the press, on the Internet and between the intelligentsia outside Cuba.

The criticism that’s promoted (Raul Castro has explicitly encouraged it), is at the same time stymied. Seemingly, there are two policies: one promoted by our president and another one by the bureaucracy that is established in power (and even running contrary to the most general directives).

Our nation’s ideological leaders fail to promote a relationship with the existing centers of debate about our situation or not taking advantage of their output. These centers, which have been created out of several initiatives, include Espacio Laical [Lay Space], the Temas [Topics] magazine, Cofradia de la Negritud [the Negritude Brotherhood], Observatorio Crítico [the Critical Observatory], the Criterio [Opinion] magazine, and UNEAC [the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists]. Instead, it seems like these centers exist despite the fact that they do not please the political leadership. Therefore, their debates seem to be carried out in an ambiguous environment of tolerance and clandestinity.

Television programming also fails to sufficiently utilize the potential available within the intellectual community to debate and clarify the issues of greatest interest among the population – especially if those issues are domestic. Such issues circulate via word-of-mouth within the island, but in practice we express them to the foreign press and allow foreign journalists to speculate about them and dominate the information that reaches our people. These issues include: What happened to the fiber optic cable? What about the dynamics of corruption? And others. Therefore, in the midst of the extraordinary ideological struggle being waged today, we are put at a disadvantage in terms of encouraging our population to participate.

Cuban intelectuals at the opening of a Havana Book Fair.

All of this is to say, the relationship between the social and humanistic sciences, culture and politics still doesn’t function to make this mechanism a formidable work tool (which it could in fact serve as) to perform the tasks the country must undertake at its most difficult crossroads of survival.

Although our principal task is to build a new economic model, our challenges are also political and ideological ones.

Of course, for the mechanism of a relationship between politics and science to function adequately, certain conditions are necessary which we still have not achieved to the degree required. These conditions are, among others:

The need for open criticism — as stated by Raul Castro — ceasing to be little more than a political guideline and a slogan, but to become a political way of life.

The need for every political and mass organization, beginning with the Party, to make that directive from Raul Castro [concerning open criticism] a permanent tool of work. Some say that you can voice criticism, but not criticism of the Party. How are we supposed to interpret this when the Party is the highest leader of society and the state?

The lack of separation between the Party, state and government, sends criticism down a dead end street that confine politics to an exercise that renders any corrections impossible.

The need for the people to gain confidence that opportune and transparent criticism can be effective.

The need to avoid seeking shelter in mere individuality but to also promote everything that allows for the full exercise of social responsibility in the face of wrongdoing. This means informational transparency, democracy within organizations, an end to impunity and respect for individual opinions – even if they may be mistaken.

A shift in mindset to include a major role for cultural work and the intellectual community. Intellectuals must feel that they have society’s trust, the highest appreciation of their creative spirit and their freedom to create. Otherwise, a struggle will ensue that will end up separating the great majority of intellectuals from the socialist path. In this same vein, those who do not turn away will end up losing their ability to guide the others.

In all the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe, political work with the cultural and intellectual communities was an insurmountable challenge. The ballast created by Stalinism, as well as the inability of the communist parties to eliminate it, prevented socialism from surviving.

Economic inefficiency, lack of productivity, and corruption were not the only culprits. The incapacity of the communist parties to lead their respective intelligentsias also produced the spiritual collapse of those societies.

(*) Esteban Morales is an outstanding Cuban intellectual and university professor. For 18 years, he presided over the University of Havana’s Center for United States Studies and is a member of numerous Cuban academies. Visit his blog (Spanish).